Zara Kesterton

PhD candidate

I am a second-year PhD candidate, supervised by Professor Ulinka Rublack and funded by the Wolfson Foundation. My thesis explores representations of nature in eighteenth-century French fashion. I have a particular interest in the production and consumption of artificial flowers in early modern Europe.

My research investigates how consumers and producers engaged with ideas about the natural world, especially new advances in botany, through their clothing. I consider how fashion both reflected and stimulated knowledge exchange in Enlightenment France. I am also interested in the ways in which natural motifs in clothing interacted with the sensory body. I plan to undertake reconstructions of real and artificial flowers in clothing to understand more about the visual, olfactory, and tactile nature of floral accessories worn on the body.

I hold an MLitt degree in Dress and Textile Histories from the University of Glasgow (2022), an MPhil degree in Early Modern History from the University of Cambridge (2020), and a BA (Hons) in English Literature and History from the University of Durham (2019).

Here in Cambridge, I am currently serving as the administrative co-ordinator for the HSS funded project, the Material Culture Forum. I also work with Amelia Hutchinson to co-convene the Material Culture postgraduate workshop. Alongside Susannah Lyon-Whaley (Auckland) and Tori Champion (St Andrew's), I run the international Women and Flowers Research Network.

I am committed to teaching and public engagement. I currently supervise and lecture final-year undergraduates on Paper 14: Material Culture in the Early Modern World. I held the position of editor-in-chief for the blog Doing History in Public in 2022–23. I have also taught English as a foreign language in France, and have worked as a tour guide at Hever Castle and Durham Castle. During the pandemic I worked as an archival research assistant for several academics based in Australia and New Zealand, including Dr Sarah Bendall.

My interests include gender history, history of science, material culture, history of dress, reconstruction history, sensory history.

I supervise final-year undergraduate students on Part II Paper 14, 'Material culture in the early modern world'.

The Power of Flowers, 1500–1750. 'Flower Girls: Pastoralism, Fashion, and Femininity in Eighteenth-Century France.'

Intermédiaires? Les femmes dans les sphères artistiques, entre actions et contraintes, XVIIe-XVIIIe siècles (June 2023). 'Fashion merchant Marie-Jeanne [Rose] Bertin: an exceptional intermediary?'

Women and Gardens conference, English Heritage, Wrest Park (March 2023). 'Blooming Marvels: floral fashion, gardens, and femininity in France, c.1750–1800.'

Materials of Early Modern Fashion (October 2021). '"Florals for Spring?" The use of three-dimensional flowers in 18th Century Fashion.'

New Research in Dress History Conference (June 2021). 'Marie-Jeanne Bertin and Parisian Fashion Merchants, 1770–1813.'

Cambridge Body and Food Histories Workshop (February 2021). 'The Body as Canvas: Dressing the Female Form in 18th Century France.'

Sartorial Society Series (October 2020). 'Photoshopping Ephemera: Reconstructing Late-Eighteenth Century Dress through Digital Image Manipulation.'

Cambridge Gender and Sexuality History Graduate Workshop (February 2020). 'Clothes Make the Woman: Femininity and Fashion in the profession of marchandes de modes, Paris, 1760–1810.'


Tags & Themes

Key publications

Book review of 'Material Lives: women makers and consumer culture in the eighteenth century' by Serena Dyer, in Women's History Review (November 2022).

Exhibition review of 'Artful Nature: Fashion and Theatricality 1770–1830' at the Lewis Walpole Library, in The Journal of Textile History (May 2022).

Book review of 'Fashion and Class' by Rachel Worth, in The Journal of Dress History (Winter 2020).